Largely forgotten by fans of the North Carolina men’s basketball team, Dean Smith’s hanging in effigy serves as a reminder that motivation can come from the most unlikely places.
The Jan. 9, 1965 copy of The Daily Tar Heel contained advertisements for showings of "Sex and the Single Girl," starring Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood, at the Varsity Theater, a recent "Peanuts" comic, a crossword puzzle and a story about Daniel K. Moore being sworn in as North Carolina’s 66th governor — typical stories and advertisements for a college newspaper at the time.
What readers may not have expected was an editorial denouncing the actions of a group of students who hung an effigy of head men’s basketball coach Dean Smith. The incident was brought up in an editorial in the DTH three days after it happened.
“To protest a bad basketball club is one thing, but to do it in such a cowardly underhanded manner is another,” the editorial read. “The team needs our support. It is the only team we have, and it will not change personnel before the year is out.”
That copy of the DTH contains one of the few documentations of the effigy incident that mystified UNC students during that winter and beyond.
On Jan. 6, the basketball team rolled into Chapel Hill on a bus back from Winston-Salem after suffering a 107-85 demolition at the hands of the Demon Deacons. When the bus pulled in front of Woollen Gymnasium, it was met with an effigy of head coach Dean Smith, then in just his fourth year as UNC’s head coach, hanging from a tree outside of the building.
“Dean Smith was hanging in effigy and half of us didn't realize what the devil that was and what it meant,” Billy Cunningham, a senior on that 1965 team, said. “When we realized, it was very upsetting, and myself and my teammates went out and pulled it down. We felt, if nothing else, it wasn't the coach's fault we lost. All the losing was due to the way we were playing.”
Peter Gammons, a DTH sports reporter who was on the bus, recalled players shouting for the bus to stop when they saw the effigy.
“I remember it was so bad that I didn’t have to haul out my typewriter and do a sidebar,” Gammons told the DTH via email.
The effigy was torn down by Cunningham and his teammates before Smith could see it. When Cunningham asked the students outside of Winston Hall who the culprit was, none of them had an answer, and no one claimed responsibility for the incident.
“It was just the frustration and realization of why [the effigy] was up there,” Cunningham said. “The feelings I had towards coach Smith, that this was so unfair and that goes for the whole team. We were all just so frustrated.”
Three days later, the Tar Heels went on to beat crosstown rival Duke in Durham. The Blue Devils, helmed by head coach Vic Bubas, were ranked No. 6 before their meeting with UNC. After winning six consecutive games to finish off the season, UNC beat Duke a second time — this time in Woollen — finishing the regular season with a 15-8 record.
“I think the frustration came out when we played Duke that Saturday,” Cunningham said. “It was almost like motivation for the team at that point that we were really letting the coach down.”
As for Smith, the legend of that January night became just a footnote in his Hall of Fame coaching career. Later that decade, Smith led the Tar Heels to three straight Final Fours, eventually winning two national championships in 1982 and 1993.
In his career spanning four decades, Smith’s impact on his players, like Cunnigham, Michael Jordan, Vince Carter and hundreds of others, left a lasting mark on the history of basketball.
If the hanging of the effigy impacted Smith, Cunningham said he didn’t show it.
“You could never read Dean Smith," Cunningham said. "Look at his career, he would never blame players for anything. If there was a game Carolina won, it was always because the players played so well. That was the reasoning. And he maintained that all through his coaching career at North Carolina.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.